The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, came out in 1985 and has become a modern classic in the years since, with a recent book-based television series on Hulu now entering its fourth season. Until the last few weeks, though, I'd never read it. I've also never seen even one episode of the Hulu show, although I've seen many commercials for it, featuring Elizabeth Moss in her long red dress and white bonnet with side wings so big she can't see what or who is coming up alongside of her. I've now finally read the book. Of course it is filled with terror, terror of the quiet variety. A fundamentalist, dystopian society has displaced American life-as-usual, and women bear the biggest brunt. I won't share anymore of the story, because you probably know it, but I do want to share a small thing that struck me when I read it, and it really is not so small.
Toward the beginning of the story, the main character, Offred, sits alone in her room at the window. Next to her is a little cushion with a petit point cover on which is the word "Faith." Later she wonders about the other two virtues, Hope and Charity (Love), and where their respective cushions have gone. After all, where Faith is, Hope and Love must be there somewhere. As Saint Paul wrote, “But now these three things abide: faith, hope, and love…” Indeed, if Faith is there, where are Hope and Love? Is Faith even there despite the survival of its cushion? And so a nearly hidden thread weaves through the book.
I've not read any commentary about the book nor do I know what's already been written about this, but given my interest in recent years on the topic of hope, to me, the presence—even the mention—of these theologic virtues nearly at the start of a story so bleak suggests they haven't vanished but instead are waiting to again be found. Faith. Hope. Love. Waiting to be found.
[Photo: taken of boats on Lake Superior]